Of the entire action-puzzle genre, there's nothing quite like the emotional roller-coaster of a typical game of ball-on-brick breaking. The intensity of the first couple of minutes of low positioned blocks, requiring fast reactions, a keen eye and rapid responses, to showers of game changing power ups, to the methodical end game of removing that final playing piece, constantly teetering on the edge of the mundane, always held back from boredom by the amount of concentration required to avoid losing a life. Coincidentally, before starting this review, I'd bought Alleyway on the Game Boy not long previously and found it to still be a fine game.
The biggest issue with Breakout clones, though, is that they haven't had their Space Invaders Extreme or Pac-Man Championship Edition moment; they haven't had a release that takes the fundamental concepts of the archetype and develops them into something fresh. Soccer Bashi is in no way the title to make this leap forward and the minor changes it does include are so bewilderingly misguided that the product feels inferior to the Gunpei Yokoi classic from over twenty years ago that I picked up off FleaBay.
Most glaringly obvious of these issues is the control scheme. Instead of asking you to turn the pad sideways and use the directional buttons to handle movement of your space ship, you're instead tasked with pointing the Wii Remote at the screen directly, with the bat following your pointer. While the tracking is solid and accurate, this fidelity means that the slightest movement will affect the position of your craft, potentially changing the angle at which the ball will bounce off of it by several degrees. When you reach the final moments of each of the 90 levels, this precision can be a curse, a solitary coloured square taunting you while you become increasingly infuriated at the accuracy and absolute stillness the game requires of you. Perhaps worse is that the game is easily cheesed for its majority by frantically waving the controller horizontally as fast as possible. Due to its 1:1 nature, it means you'll never let a ball be lost - provided you aren't zapped by one of the football playing robots with lasers (seriously - more on this later) - because your arm moves the paddle fast enough to reach any area of the play field from any area on the play field.
A very well timed press of the A button when ball meets bat will propel it forward significantly faster across the table and while this is tricky to pull off - and consequently satisfying to master - it doesn't really affect the gameplay in a positive or indeed negative way, so begs the question why you would bother to learn how to do it in the first place? Power-ups are standard fare, the usual array of bat widening, bat shortening, multi-ball and instant level completion tokens. There's no way of telling where these abilities are hidden, meaning accessing them is random, which is again ‘par for the course’ with Breakout clones, but the developers missed out on adding a layer of strategy that could have brought something new to the game. What is new is the inclusion of a ‘goalie’ bat, protecting a small open area at the top of the screen. Squeezing a ball past them results in a goal and the automatic conclusion of the level, yet the multitude of bricks in the way, coupled with the goalie's general competence, means that this is an extremely rare occurrence, more chance than any other deciding factor.
There's a level editor included as part of the package to enable players to design their own stages, but, as with the rest of the menus in the game, it's unwieldy to navigate. Options for backgrounds are limited with no way to import a photo from an SD Card and there isn't a way to share your creations with friends or as part of a global community. You'll have to show your pals next time they pop round for a Soccer Bashi all-nighter. By which I mean “you will never show them your levels”.
As you'll be gathering by now, at its core Soccer Bashi doesn't bring anything new to the Breakout table that is of any value, relying on a two decade old formula as its basis and any alterations it makes to the template feel half-hearted. If there's one thing Soccer Bashi does have it's a serious case of identity crisis. The rather low resolution art assets don't help spruce up a traditionally bland looking game, though it is the overall presentation concept that grates hardest. For a title with "Soccer" in its name, it has practically nothing to tie it to that sport, barring the ball itself being a football, the goalie bat, and a few constantly repeating audio clips of soccer match atmospherics. Your representation on screen is - conversely - a spacecraft, because according to the Soccer Bashi fiction, the tournament in which you are playing is in a far flung future where giant mechanical robots are allowed to fire ordinance at you mid-game as part of an intergalactic competition of “soccer”. I'm sure on paper the idea sounded novel and off-kilter - future footie with androids, awesome - but in reality it never blends well, seeming like two completely different ideas mashed uneasily together.
The basics are there, but then again they ought to be, developers have been making games like this for almost a quarter of a century. Aggravating controls get in the way of much of the fun to be had.
Low fidelity and artistically uninspired design mixes with coloured squares. The coloured squares are the best looking things in the game.
Ever repeating sound effects drown out a soundtrack that is pleasingly resonant of the Amiga sound chip.
Technically limitless due to the level creator, but the game itself is too much effort to warrant extended play.
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With much better Breakout alternatives already available on WiiWare, Soccer Bashi is a struggle to recommend. Football enthusiasts will feel ripped off by the lack of presence their “beautiful game” has and fans of the classic will find nothing new other than half-baked control ideas. This is a confusing, overly complicated product that overburdens a wonderfully simple premise with obscure, unnecessary design.
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Break out dates back to 1981 if memory serves right... well the Commodore 64 version I have at home does anyway, so that's a concept which is at least 30 years old. Yet I still love that kind of game. Arkanoid DS, with the "paddle" that you lug in the GBA card slot sounds like a better option to me.
Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer